'Secret Ballot' is the epitome of a 'small' movie. Set on a desolate island off the coast of Iran, it's the story of a voting agent's day - 8:30 AM to 5 PM - as she tries to collect the votes of the island's sparse population while in the company of a grumpy Iranian army conscript.
Along the way, she tackles:
1) Sexism (as the conscript tells her: "They told me an agent was coming, not a woman").
2) Illiteracy (she's forced to resort to pictures of the candidates)
3) Fundamentalism ("I cast my vote for God" one guy keeps telling her)
4) Apathy and skeptism (and who can blame these folks? Despite Khatami's 'democratic' victory, the unelected theocrats still rule the day in Iran)
...and a lot more.
The relationship between the two leads develops slowly and you have very nuanced exchanges like:
Conscript: "When is the next election?"
Agent: "In four years. Elections are held every four years."
Conscript: "Why not hold them three or four times a year? That would be better"
...by this point in the film, this isn't a political statement. It's just the conscript's very (very) subtle way of saying "Gee, it would be great if I could see you more."
Here's a warning: This is a *very* slow-moving film. There are sequences at the beginning where you see a soldier spend five minutes getting ready for bed (in a dilapidated outside cot); then the agent spend two minutes getting the sand off of her feet.
I can see Babak Payami's motivation here. We're being shown how simple and unaffected - and pretty darn difficult - life is on this island. But if you're watching this on a full stomach, be careful: you may nod off. This is not intended as a slam of the film, which - on the whole - I enjoyed very much. I'm just saying you're going to need some energy to soldier through the first 20 minutes of 'Secret Ballot.' Just being honest.